By now, you’ve probably seen the pictures.
The image of the Panthers firing Gerard Gallant and leaving him behind on the road is going to linger over that franchise for a while. pic.twitter.com/U7z6aJlLtF
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) November 28, 2016
In the evening hours of Sunday, November 27, Gerard Gallant stood outside the PNC Arena. Baggage in tow, the now-former head coach of the Florida Panthers patiently waited for a cab to arrive and whisk him to the airport, where he would fly back to South Florida alone.
Hours earlier, he had stepped off of a team bus with his players. Hours earlier, his team notched another disappointing loss, squandering a two-goal lead against the Caroline Hurricanes. Minutes earlier, General Manager Tom Rowe pulled him aside, informing him that he had been relieved of his duties.
Canned. Fired. Sacked.
Just like that, Gallant was jobless. And to pour a healthy dose of proverbial salt in his wound, his team — the same one that he managed to franchise records last year — abandoned him in Raleigh, North Carolina, his luggage removed by team employees from their bus.
The decision was bad enough. Any number of reasons could have been pinned as the culprit behind the Panthers’ slow start: that three of the team’s best forwards have missed a combined 52 games by the season’s quarterpole; that a top-six defenseman had been placed on injury reserve; that, after a hectic offseason that welcomed six newcomers, the club’s acquisitions had yet to gel.
It’s execution was, somehow, worse.
For an organization supposedly predicated on loyalty, Gallant’s dismissal exhibited a dearth of it.
Much has been made of club owner Vincent Viola’s military ties. A graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, the Brooklynite made a point of instilling those values in his charges. As was claimed in an article written by Jameson Olive, “Viola believes that many of the core values of military service — loyalty, duty, honor, etc. — should be interwoven into the fabric of his franchise.”
Two factors you’d figure were at play when the Cats handed Gallant a two-year contract extension on January 2; which, in the words of chairman Peter Luukko, “(would) give us the stability that the franchise needs to succeed.”
Gerard Gallant had his contract extended last year. Was runner up for C of Y. Now he's fired and a bad coach ? Seriously?
— Darren R Pang (@Panger40) November 28, 2016
Players liked playing for the 2016 Jack Adams award nominee. That much was evident: Gallant compiled a 96-65-25 record during his tenure as head coach, recording the highest points percentage (.583) of any bench boss in team history. He led the club to its second playoff appearance since the 2000-01 season and to its first Atlantic Division title in team history.
Gallant had proved his worth; and given the extended absences of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Jussi Jokinen and Alex Petrovic, he could hardly be blamed for the squad’s 11-10-1 record. Which makes Gallant’s firing all the more shortsighted.
Remember: At this point last season, the Panthers were 9-9-4 before winning 16 of their next 18 games and catapulting to the top of the divisional standings. Performance had little to do with it. Loyalty, or a lack thereof, did; and now, the question shifts to whether or not interim head coach Tom Rowe can foster the same sort of bonds with the team whose coach he fired.
A Philosophical Divide
At the heart of the matter, though, rests a simple philosophical debate.
Yes, Gerard Gallant clearly was too old-school for the @FlaPanthers. He left by taxi instead of Uber.
— Michael Farber (@MichaelFarber3) November 29, 2016
A former player who logged over 600 NHL games, Gallant adhered to the “old school” mentality of hockey, paying little mind to the advanced analytics that were so highly touted by the Panthers’ overhauled front office. Given this, the fact that he and Rowe occasionally butted heads on player personnel decisions shouldn’t be a surprise.
However, relieving someone of their duties solely for espousing a different opinion is counterproductive to success. Friction generates growth. Differing sentiments lead to open discourse, creating potential solutions that would otherwise be buried by groupthink. By eliminating a dissenting voice, the Panthers have constructed an echo chamber of sorts, where one-track thoughts prevail.
Analytics isn’t an end-all, be-all measure of success. Like Rowe said days ago, it’s a tool that can be used to break down a team’s play. It can lead to informed decisions. But, ultimately, it takes an individual with a feel for the game to pull the trigger on those moves.
Much like Gallant, Rowe is a former NHLer, a veteran of 357 games. He, as much as anybody, knew that Gallant was a respected figure in the hockey community.
Gerard Gallant is one hell of a good, proven hockey man. He's not going to be out of work for long
— Dave Stubbs (@Dave_Stubbs) November 28, 2016
Even if they intermittently clashed over hockey ideologies, having a man of Gallant’s pedigree behind the bench would work to benefit the team.
But now, that influence is gone.
Unceremoniously kicked to the curb.
A rower-turned-writer at the University of Florida and an incoming MA in Journalism student at DePaul University, I have: Worked as a staff writer for the Independent Florida Alligator; covered the Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers; reported on international tournaments for Hooked On Hockey Magazine; and functioned as an entertainment correspondent with the Gainesville Sun. If you’re interested, you can also follow me on Twitter @ajlb95.